Delhi to Dubai to London

Dubai Airport

Friday 1st April 2011

Delhi Airport
Delhi Airport

Delhi airport is enormous and very well organised  – a far cry from the old place – and after a couple of very relaxing hours in the Business Class Lounge the flight was called for departure about 15:30 for a 16:15 departure.  It wasn’t too far to the gate but the whole airport seemed deserted with an absolutely enormous duty free shop and some rather smart Indian souvenir shops, with one fronting a health spa.  Deserted.

Emirates flight 517 to Dubai was actually quite good today – the staff almost worked as a team, and the senior cabin crew member was English, which gave a nice homely feel to the trip.  Most importantly everyone received a full service and yet we had an hour to relax after the meal service, which is a total difference to the outbound flight where we were almost landing before all the trays were cleared in.  Both this and the outbound flight were both 100% full – it is just the crew that make the difference.

I was handed a Business Class priority passport queue pass when we disembarked – very nice touch – and went off to explore Dubai, as I had allowed an 8 hour connection to go and have a look around before my flight to London at 02:30.

My verdict on Dubai  – its not for me. In fact I hope I never have to set foot in the place again.  I took the Red Line metro from the airport to one of the interchange stations where I thought I would try the Green Line as far as Dubai Creek – so much the star of Michael Palin’s Round the World in 80 Days.  After going up to street level and back twice I realised that the Green Line hasn’t been completed yet although it appears on all the transport maps without even a mention that it isnt open.

Dubai Airport
Dubai Airport

Luckily I bought a day ticket for public transport otherwise I would have been forever wondering if I had the right ticket for the next part of the trip.  Most rides are paid by Oyster card equivalent – a contactless smart card which is used to enter and exit the station. The brand new metro seemed excellent at first,  but it soon became obvious that it is far too small to cope with the demand.  I tried to stay on for a ride to Dubai Marina, but it was far too busy so I was pleased to be able to get off at Dubai Mall which I had also heard of.  Two other things of note about the Dubai Metro.  It is driver-less and despite being absolutley mobbed, there are very few hand rails inside so presumably everyone has to hold everyone else upright.  Oh yes and  third – it has a Gold Class which is by individual ticket only but at least you can get a seat, and another carriage is for women only – something which also features on the buses. How different things can be from one country to another.

Burj Khalifa Dubai - Worlds tallest building
Burj Khalifa Dubai - Worlds tallest building

The one high point, if I can call it that, was to realise that Dubai Mall is also the location of the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building, which stands out against the otherwise normal high rise area.  It is a breathtaking sight – probably worth the metro trip just to see it.  As for going up to the observation deck?  No chance.  When I checked online a couple of days ago the first tickets available were for Saturday unless you wanted to turn up unreserved and pay 400 Dirhams – thats almost 70 pounds.  No thanks!  I just can not believe how busy Dubai is – maybe due to it being Friday but I can’t help thinking what is must have been like here before the Metro.

The metro station is nowhere close to the Mall – theres a so called shuttle bus which I took expecting it to be a couple of minutes trip.  It dropped off under the Mall – which I took a quick look inside.  I don’t know if its just because it was Friday but the place was packed tight with people all wandering around.  It may be the World’s biggest shopping mall but it was awful so I went back to the shuttle bus which joined a 3 lane highway for a 45 minute traffic jam back to the metro station.  I probably don’t need to describe how happy that made me feel.

So 3 hours after starting out I was back at the airport with a mere 5 hours to kill.  I passed a couple of hours in the Emirates Transit passengers’ restaurant where all econonomy class passengers with connecting fights can get a free meal.  Quite a nice touch but some people were behaving like animals shovelling down platefuls of food and leaving the remains scattered all over the place.  Not surprising therefore that they wanted to throw everyone out at 1am to have a clean up.

Dubai’s duty free shops appeared to be amazing on first inspection but they are just full of the same tat sold world over at hugely inflated prices.  Apart from tobacco, the spirits were no different in price from the UK supermarket special offers – certainly not anything here to make me want to spend any of my dirhams.

And so I passed the final hour wandering to the gate and making sure that I didnt fall asleep and miss it.

The 777-300 was completely 100% full so all hope of a spare seat or two was out of the question.  I was not impressed with the seat pitch either.  My legs were touching the seat in front, but there is some clever mechanism which allows the seats to recline without hitting the person behind – they slide forwards as well as tilting, so it wasn’t quite as bad as I was fearing as well as seeming to be softer than those on the Airbus A380.

I stuck my Dont Disturb sticker on, so I missed the meals – a chicken roll and a muffin after take off and an omelette or scrambled egg hot breakfast – with all the trimmings – very nice looking too.  I guess I dozed for a couple of hours but as we came up over Turkey there was 90 minutes of turbulence which made it almost imporssible to go back to sleep especially sitting in the back.  Staring at the screen 3 hours 50 minutes until arrival, 3 hours 49 minutes until arrival, 3 hours 48 …. and trying to block out the muffled sounds of sick bags being used.

So the flight was OK – I can’t blame Emirates for the weather , and the service was quite good – with excellent inflight entertainment too.  But the long day starting in Delhi and ending at Heathrow with such an anticlimax in Dubai meant this didnt turn out to be the grand finale to the trip which I had hoped for.

Never mind.  With 420 rupees left over and a six month visa there’s always a chance for another try!

Jodhpur to Delhi

Jodhpur Station

Thursday 31st March 2011

Me at the Midtown Restaurant Jodhpur

I decided to keep my room for another night, as the train to Delhi wasn’t due to depart until 22:30, but of course I didn’t want to stay the whole night.  This threw Yogis Guest House into a state of confusion as they wanted to charge me half price for staying after checkout time, but they wanted to add this to the three nights which I was prepared to pay for.

They were simply unable to grasp the concept that I had only stayed two nights, yet was prepared to pay for three.  Over and over again.  Frantic phonecalls to try to find the boss.  After twenty minutes I had to  switch to being in charge again.  I wrote down on a sheet of paper Tuesday Night 800 rupees, Wednesday Night 800 rupees, Thursday Night 800 rupees.  Total 2400 rupees.  OK?

Yes sir.  Then you pay only half price for today. 2800 rupees.

Oh for goodness sake it is only Thurdsday day time today…

… finally they gave in, but were totally convinced I was trying to con them.  I therefore insisted on written receipt which caused another ten minutes of mayhem while they refused and even told me it was illegal. I waited patiently until the necessary form was completed in triplicate.

Out in the heat of the night, I walked down to the station, leaving just long enough to find the Midtown restaurant which I had failed to locate a couple of nights ago.  Finally I found it – the Rough Guide makes it look like it is on the road outside the station, but instead it is actually on a main wide road directly opposite the station.  A good find it was too – very clean with promises of all vegetables being washed in purified water etc.

Jodhpur Station
Jodhpur Station

Back to the station then – the train 14060 Jaisalmer to Delhi Express was the longest train I have ever seen.  At least 24 carriages.  A dozen were arleady standing on platform 1 about half a mile away – these were the carriages starting from Jodhpur while the rest of the train had arrived on platform 3 before being taken away and brought back into platform 1.  Thanks the the new LED displays which mark the location of each carriage, I was happy that things were going to work out OK, but it was about 10:45pm before carriage HA1 appeared at its allocated space.

HA1 is a good carriage number.  It designates a split first 1AC and 2AC carriage, with three compartments in First, and twenty berths in 2AC, and despite looking like a typical wreck, this one was only a year old, according to the builder’s plate.  Unlike the rest of the train which was either sleeper or second unreserved, and therefore very busy, this carriage was a little cool calm oasis, where most of the other beds were already occupied and everyone was asleep.

2AC Carriage, Indian Railways

I made up my bunk and climbed in and slept all the way until Delhi with vague recollections of stopping at Jaipur at 5am.

We came in to Old Delhi station on Platform 1 which is where I first came in to the station two weeks ago.  Other Europeans in the train were convinced this couldnt possibly be Delhi, and so remained sitting,  but I knew the way, up over the enormous footbridge and onwards to the main station at the far side, where I collected my bag from the Cloak Room and headed for breakfast.

The final leg of the journey was starting – a rickshaw to New Delhi Station to catch the Airport Express Metro back to the airport.  A quick security scan before being allowed into the station, 80 rupees fare paid and within 30 minutes of arriving at New Delhi Metro, I was at the airport.  My blue token was rejected by the exit machine though so there was a minor crisis in which I was required to go to Customer Services who wanted to see the printed ticket issued alongside the blue plastic chip, which I had fortunately retained.  They were able to tally the token to the printout and therefore let me through but it just goes to show that in India, never throw anything away.

Delhi Airport is immaculately presented – I had treated myself to a Business Class upgrade as far as Dubai which gave me access to the brand new Emirates lounge with as much free food and drink as I could manage, and comfortable chairs with wifi. And so here I am sitting for the last hour before the flight departs.

Dubai to Delhi

Thursday 18th March 2011

Well I guess this is day two already after a hot and dry night on the plane. So much for Economy – this is the Business!  Yes I got upgraded with not only Business Class on the next flight to Delhi, but full access to the Emirates Lounge in Dubai.  Doesn’t sound much – after all I have been in, and indeed been responsible for provisioning, business class lounges in the past.  However to discvover that this one runs half the entire length of the terminal on the upper story with at least a dozen different service points all offering an incredible reange of hot and cold breakfasts – its a totally different world – and it is very busy this morning.

There is of course free wifi and hundreds of charging points, showers and health spa (the only extra).  But the food – the quality is superb – is the star of the show and a delicious plate of South Indian idli and sambar was just the ticket to recover from last night.

I felt really awful coming in here though, as I had met a really nice chap on the flight who was on his way to Sydney to meet up with his Australian girlfriend, where he would then spend the rest of his life. Emigrating without ever having been to Australia is a fairly big step, and he was totally bewildered by the size of Dubai airport, asked if I wanted to join him for some breakfast and then had to say goodbye as I toddled off up the stairs.  Best of luck if by some bizarre chance you are reading this – I really hope it all works out in Oz.  Oh yes – and his father runs a boat yard in Rugby, fitting out narrowboats. What an incredibly small world!

The emirates crew were also very professional and one in particular, a South African guy called Ronaldo, seemed such a genuinely interested person that we all ended up shaking hands as we left the plane. He also chatted in Aafrikans to our South African neighbours who had been visiting Crufts, and were Bull Terrier breeders back home in Capetown. What an interesting flight it turned out to be.

 

Emirates A330 departing from Dubai

With the three hour wait over the Delhi flight was about to depart – this time in an older Airbus 330 which left from a coaching stand absolutely miles away from the terminal.  Business Class certianly didnt exist on the bus but the sight of the enormous leather armchairs was most welcome as we boarded.

Compared with the A380 this is a small plane and quite old fashioned – and completely full.  The crew started off quite efficiently, serving us with champagne or soft drinks as we sat down, but with a full cabin of 42 passengers they began to fall apart when it came to serving drinks and food.  Everyone got what they wanted, but some were very annoyed about the delay in serving – and when you think how much some of these people had paid, they certianly had a point.

 However the demands of some of these passengers were verging on the unreasonable and made me realise that whilst I like my comforts and expect a lot, I hope I never turn into the sort of person who formed the majority of the people in this cabin.  Mostly Indian, mostly quite old and mostly very demanding from not being able to cope with fastening their seat belt to wanting continuous refills of their drinks.

Lobster and Caviar for lunch!

My meal was Lobster and Caviar followed by Sea Bream and was quite nice, but proves that all the money in the world cant really buy an exceptional meal onboard.  I would quite honestly rather have had something less fancy but nicer.

I left the flight thinking that most of the passengers were spoilt brats, but do agree that this crew were making a mess of the service.  However the plane got its own back, as when we landed all the business class trollies flew open and spilt the entire contents of most of the 42 used meal trays, glasses, soup bowls and contents all over the crew and floor.  The noise of breaking glass was quite incredible and the galley floor ended up awash with spilt wine, soup and equipment.  The crew were so busy ducking from the flying bottles that they didnt notice that two passengers had got out of their seats while the plane was still running at over 100 miles an hour, to close the overhead lockers which had burst open.  A messy end to a messy flight and whilst I really enjoyed my huge seat I feel the overall experience onboard could have matched that of the lounge if only they hadnt tried too hard.

There was a short delay in allowing us off due to sweeping up the mess, but I got off first (as usual!) into the amazing world of the new Delhi airport which is of world class quality.  We Business Class passengers even had our own passport desks (although there was no check to see if anyone had taken advantage) and within ten minutes of landing I was collecting my priorty labelled Business Class bag and heading out of the airport.

The new Delhi metro airport branch has been open for only three weeks or so, and for 80 rupees whisked me and about 10 other people into the centre of town within 20 minutes.  With 8 or 10 carriages, a staff of thousands, this train could have carried over a thousand people – presumably word has still got to get around that it exists. 

All I have to do now is find an exit and check my train reservations.  Wait a minute – BUMP!!! – whats that?  Thats the sound of me coming down to earth and arriving in Delhi of course!! And its just as chaotic as ever.

Newbury to Dubai

Wednesday 17th March 2011

Emirates A380 ready to depart from Heathrow

Seat 80B rocks!

Where am I? What the hell am I doing here?

Its like a dream. This morning I woke up to bad karma – a neighbouring boater had died in his sleep and the police were everywhere. Just after I left to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport, the M4 – that’s the main motorway from the west of England to Heathrow, was completely blocked with a serious accident. Libya is at war with itself and after Egypt and Tunisia are still reeling from Twitter powered revolution, Bahrain has stamped hard on its people with tanks and guns this morning. Japan was recovering from the worst earthquake in recent history, tsunami soaked nuclear power stations were threatening to contaminate not only Japan but the rest of the world and the guy in seat 80B is cutting his arm off with a second rate blunt penknife.

Well actually I’m the guy in seat 80B on the Emirates Flight Ek4 from London to Dubai and I’m watching the film 127 Hours in which the self-amputation forms the key story line. The rest of the above is sadly true and god only knows what’s going to happen in Japan. Dubai, and Delhi, as far as I know right now, are still intact and as my plane(s) will be landing at both of those airports in the near future I really hope it stays that way!

80B turns out to be a fabulous seat on the Airbus A380. Its an emergency exit seat with unlimited legroom, unlimited good company from surrounding passengers and crew and thus far unlimited wine. Gruner Vertlinger 2008 no less. My goodness if Emirates serve this in Economy then I cant wait to find out what they serve in Business Class – or upstairs as we say, here on the A380.

Emirates so far has been a very positive experience. The Airbus is nothing short of incredible in size and comfort but the lounge at Heathrow was also brand new with a grandstand view of the aircraft loading and comfortable seating including workstations with power sockets and free newspapers in both recognisable and unrecognisable script.

Looking around, there certainly wasnt even a hundred people so we were treated to more spare seats than I could ever have imagined, and sitting facing the crew during take-off, they confirmed that this was an unusually quiet night, after their last flight of 405 passengers. My fellow passenger – I say this even though he was sitting in the row behind – suddenly annonced that he had never been on a long haul flight before but nevertheless was on a one way ticket to a new life, emigrating to Australia, which suddenly put my two week trip to seek out a new experience in India into perspective.

So seat 80B is right beside the emergency exit at the front of the rear cabin, downstairs on the A380. It has no seat 80A and so theres a huge space to the left and row 79 is in a different part of the plane. To the right 80C is empty – apart from my bags and discarded empty wine bottles. Our friendly crew recommend moving back to claim an empty row each before takeoff, but somehow it seems absolutely fine here as the menus are handout out – roast chicken or lamb tonight.

And 1000+ channels of entertainment out of which I managed to listen to Michael Palin – Emirates guest of the month – followed by the odd snippet of the Kings Speech (not my cup of tea) before setting down with dinner, another Gruner Vertlinger, and 127 Hours.

127 hours is a true story of sheer hell stuck alone down a crevice without water, before finally removing his arm and climbing back to humanity. The underlying theme seems even more eerie. “You didn’t tell anyone where you were going? How will anyone find you if you didn’t tell anyone where you were going? You can’t be a missing person if nobody knows you are missing!!!”

Crikey here I am on a flight to Delhi, onward reservation to Srinagar via Jammu, in Kashmir – and nobody really knows of my semi-serious plans to actually go there. If I don’t then I stand to lose 35 pounds – 20 pounds for a flight from Jammu into Srinagar and 15 pounds for an overnight train into Jammu from Delhi. Several familuy and friends know of my arrival in Delhi but only Gavin knows of the next few steps – mainly because last night I had to get up at 02:25 am (8:00 in India) to make a rail reservation on a fully booked train from Delhi. Well fully booked in advance terms, but in the crazy Indian way, hundreds of extra seats/berths are released at 8am on the day before the day before travel. These seats, known as th Taktal quota, are more expensive than the regular unobtainable seats, and dissappear fast – as demonstrated when the Indian Railways booking site visibly died under the pressure of thousands of hopeful customers booking at the last minute.

How this website even gets through a single day when you discover that 14 million people per day travel on Indian Railways, many of whom pay for waiting list tickets and then have to be refunded when they fail to get confirmed bookings – or they can voluntarily cancel their plans, or offer to be upgraded or downgraded or simply bribe someone in the old style. It accepts all kinds of payment as long as you live in India or at least have an Indian bank account or credit card, but shamelessly declares that international credit cards will not be suitable for the payment gateways. In true Indian style this is not quite the end of the story – and once you know to select the ICICI Visa/Mastercard option (one wrong click and you have to start the entire booking process again) then Nirvana is only a couple of clicks and a wing and a prayer away, even with an International card.

I digress. Seat 80B is getting a bit uncomfortable now, but I really prefer to remain seated upright rather than reclined – much to the relief of the person sitting behind who remains able to see his 1000+ channels of entertainment without touching it with his nose.

So I guess, Dubai time, we are now already into the second day of my trip. I promise to keep at least someone informed of my travel plans – hey Gavin – and hope someone will keep me informed if Japanese exports of the radioactive kind should ever be spotted winging their way towards Kashmir.

Kashmir has enough negative vibes this week – whether police shooting terrorist leaders or the new official policy poisoning wild dogs, or even the army digging out 600 or so of the travellers who ventured up the roads into the snow this week. Yes its all happening again in Srinagar. So maybe I will pick up my flight from Jammu, or maybe I will forego the 20 pounds fare and head south to Pathankot and thereafter Mcleodgang which should be altogether much less of a worry.

But one thing’s certain. With two current train reservations from Delhi to Jammu tomorrow night, one of which is still well into the waiting list category, but one of which is confirmed, I will be heading jammu -wards tomorrow.